Il Decamerone: From A Claiming Race To The Saudi Cup Meeting
10 February 2023
10 February 2023 – Il Decamerone was one of the great success stories of Spanish horse racing in 2022.
Undefeated in three starts, he finished the year with the second highest rating in Spain, and is now set to run in the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap (90-110) presented by Al Rajhi Bank on 24 February, on the first day of The Saudi Cup meeting, which offers a huge opportunity for a horse purchased from a French claiming race for just €30,200.
“It was not easy to buy him, there was very little difference in the claim ballots. Then everything went perfectly. He won a Quinté in Tarbes that we used as a trial for the Gold Cup [at San Sebastien],” said trainer Óscar Anaya.
The Argentine trainer, established in Spain since 2002, broke the record for victories (82) in a single year in Spanish horse racing in 2022 and now embarks on his biggest international challenge at The Saudi Cup meeting.
“We do not face this challenge of The Saudi Cup as a personal one, but rather we represent the Spanish horse racing industry. That is why it is important to do well, to be recognised. It would be very important for a horse trained in Spain to win a race like the Saudi International Handicap.”
The Saudi International Handicap has been on Anaya’s mind since Il Decamerone won the San Sebastian Gold Cup on August 15.
He said: “When we won the Gold Cup, we all started dreaming about this adventure. We decided to run in the Gran Premio Román Martín, over 2000 metres, to test the horse at the distance, and he won again. Then we looked for a Listed with the idea of whether the horse was going to go to The Saudi Cup. It was a tough Listed race, almost a Group 3, in Deauville he finished ninth, six lengths behind the winner, Yoozuna – and after that we definitely decided to run in the Handicap.”
Spain will be represented at The Saudi Cup this year by Il Decamerone and the Guillermo Arizkorreta-trained Sir Roque, who are both set to run in the Saudi International Handicap presented by Al Rajhi Bank.
It’s a race Spanish-trained horses have targeted before with Federico and Noray in 2020 and Domi Go and Finely Tuned in 2021, and Finely Tuned's seventh place remains their best finish.
Anaya is hoping to better that with Il Decamerone, but is under no illusions about the scale of his task: “I am little competitive, I always like to win. But I am also a realist and I know that it will not be easy. It is one of the handicaps with the highest prize in the world. We want to do a good job, to finish as close to first as possible. I am going to Saudi Arabia because I think the horse has a chance to do well. We are very excited because it is a spectacular meeting and the prize is very tempting.”
One of the things Óscar Anaya values most is the presence of Portuguese rider Ricardo Sousa, who has been based in Riyadh for two years, and will take the ride.
Anaya said: “Having Ricardo there is a plus. Ricardo is there already and knows everything perfectly – what the track is like, how you have to run. Having him to ride Il Decamerone gives me a lot of confidence. He is a very versatile horse – you can improvise the strategy – you can go in front or behind. I will let Ricardo decide. He is a horse that gives you the chance to decide when the gates open.”
Since the Riyadh season began Anaya has been following Saudi racing closely and is aware of the enormous evolution of horse racing in Saudi Arabia.
“I watch all the races there, especially the ones on the turf. Saudi Horse racing is showing terrific progress from one year to another. We’ve already seen it at the sales in England when they went to buy horses. There is a big difference, their investment is increasing. I will try to enjoy the meeting but I will be very focused on my horse,” he said.
Anaya believes that 2022 was his most exciting year since he became a trainer, and the Saudi International Handicap presented by Al Rajhi Bank could be his biggest achievement. What everyone agrees on is that Spanish horse racing has a great opportunity to showcase itself on the world stage on 24 February.